Interview With Author Randall Meissen
By Kathleen Naab
ROME, 18 FEB. 2011 (ZENIT)
\Pope John Paul II will be beatified May 1 in part because his intercession brought the healing of a French nun from Parkinson's Disease. But the Polish Pontiff has brought about many more miracles — living miracles, according to Legionary of Christ Brother Randall Meissen.
Brother Meissen has written a book called "Living Miracles: The Spiritual Sons of John Paul the Great" about priests who trace their vocation back to the influence of this Pope.
The book explains what these "JP2 revolution" priests have in common and how God chose to plant and nourish the seed of their vocations through the witness of the Bishop of Rome.
ZENIT: Why do you call these priests "living miracles?" Would they not have become priests had it not been for John Paul II? How does one man — even if he is the Pope — have such a profound effect on people as to influence their choice for a state in life?
Brother Meissen: In the broad sense, a miracle is an event which is supernatural in origin, something which defies explanation on the natural plane. Such is the vocation in the lives of these priests. They experienced a call, supernatural in origin, which drove them to follow a path radically at odds with everything naturally apparent to mainstream culture.
But, more specifically, the title of the book expresses my own reaction to the testimonies contained therein. Some of the stories have eerie moments where you can see the hand of God reaching down from the heavens. Father Mark White was still a Lutheran when he entered a Catholic chapel at his college and was awash in mysterious awareness of the presence of God. He says that moment was "the turning point of my whole life." Then, there is Juan Carlos Vasquez, a seminarian and John Paul enthusiast, whose father recovered from Crohn's disease (supposedly incurable) following prayers to John Paul II.
But with those cases aside, throughout the text, the sheer multitude of "coincidences," the number of twists and turns that these individuals experienced stretches belief. Their priestly calling and their zealous ministry to the Church is a living miracle. Furthermore, the whole "JP2 revolution," the effect it has had on the Church, the way it captivated and invigorated a generation of Catholics makes me think that we are still living out John Paul's greatest miracle.
ZENIT: What do the priests influenced by John Paul II have in common?
Brother Meissen: There is great diversity among the priests featured in my book. However, above all, each of them self-identifies with some core aspect of John Paul II's teaching and style of ministry. As I was conducting interviews, I asked scores of priests if they personally considered John Paul II to be a spiritual father. The contrast in reactions was striking. Many priests expressed admiration for John Paul II, but a smaller subset replied with enthusiastic affirmation, "Absolutely!"
I think this point is extremely important when one is talking about John Paul's continued influence on Church culture. A cornerstone of the "JP2 revolution" concerns the culture of optimism and enthusiasm that he created, largely though his own authenticity in living out the Gospel message. In recent years, the Catholic priesthood has gotten its share of bad press. It is easy for some priests to be timid or ashamed of their priesthood. But the priests who are living out the "JP2 revolution" are quite the contrary. They are invigorated and overflowing with delight in their vocation as priests. Their optimism is infectious.
ZENIT: How did you come to write this book? How did you find and select the stories of these "living miracles?"
Brother Meissen: The idea for the book came on a whim. I was speaking with some priests about the existence of a "JP2 generation," and the suggestion came that someone should write a book on the topic. Since I am a hopeless John Paul enthusiast, I couldn't resist the idea.
In a way, the book wrote itself. I sent a few e-mails around to the priests I knew, and they in turn referred me to other priests with stories. I have the impression that these "JP2 generation" priests are like grapes and come in bunches. They generally seemed to be networked with others who share the John Paul spirit.
ZENIT: Which profile in the book struck you the most?
Brother Meissen: The profile of Father Peter Mitchell stands out for several reasons. As a 19-year-old, he decided to tag along with his parish youth group on the trip to the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver. He had two motivations: He wanted to see the mountains and there were some good looking girls signed up for the trip. However, seeing Pope John Paul II was a turning point in Peter's life. He was transformed from living his faith in an ashamed and sheepish kind of way and left with a bold desire to proclaim the Gospel.
Father Mitchell says the experience of the welcoming ceremony for the Pope in Mile High stadium blew him away. The ceremony had been accompanied by torrential rain, but when John Paul started to pray the Our Father, a huge rainbow arched over the stadium.
A day and a half later, during the closing Mass held in Cherry Creek State Park, Father Mitchell decided to accept whatever path God wanted him to follow. He says that he knelt down in the dirt there and started crying as a wall of interior resistance crumbled away. There, he accepted the inspiration of a vocation and resolved to do whatever the Lord wanted.
Now, Father Mitchell teaches at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Nebraska, passing on his spiritual verve to a new generation of seminarians. He also serves a parish, where he sees youth work as a ministry of presence. He is an avid runner, and in the past has lent a hand coaching track at the local public school. Father Mitchell said he wants to show the young people that being a priest is "being fully a man, being fully alive, and fully involved in life."
ZENIT: How did John Paul II influence your own vocation?
Brother Meissen: Back in the year 2000, I was a pre-med student buried in biology and chemistry studies, and I was spiritually adrift. However, as part of the Great Jubilee, I went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Unknown to me, my trip coincided with the annual Corpus Christi celebration when the Pope takes part in a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Rome. I was along the road, craning my neck to see the Pope as he passed by. The Pope was kneeling in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, carried on a flatbed truck with a canopy overtop — when he had been in better health, the Pope had walked the procession route.
In that moment, as the Pope passed a few meters from where I stood, he looked up at the Blessed Sacrament, and then quickly turned his head and with a piercing gaze looked directly at me. Truth be told, it was a strange sensation to feel that John Paul was looking for me and looking at me. In his deep eyes, filled with purity and peace, I saw reflected the kind of person I wanted to be. After that day, I really began to wrestle with the idea of the priestly vocation. And I also returned home with a consuming curiosity in John Paul II, in his life and his writing.
Within a month, I had chewed my way through George Weigel's mammoth biography of the Pope and I started reading John Paul's writings: "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," "Gift and Mystery," and especially his encyclical "The Splendor of Truth." The more I read, the more I wanted to imitate his example. He had something that I wanted. What I had seen in his eyes in Rome arose from a profound union with God.
I was enamored by the Pope's life of prayer, a deeply mystical mixture of Polish piety flavored with the Carmelite spirituality of St. John of the Cross. I wanted to pray like the Pope prayed, and I started sneaking out of my college dorm late at night to pray in the chapel across the street. In the dead of night, in that chapel, dimly lit by a votive candle and the red glow of an exit sign, I grew firm in the certitude of God's call.
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On the Net:
"Living Miracles": www.amazon.com/Living-Miracles-Spiritual-Sons-Great/dp/1933271272/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297985238&sr=8-1